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Businesses Help Guide Workers Down Path To Citizenship

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And high tech companies in Silicon Valley have long depended on foreign born workers, some of whom are eligible to become citizens. Now a few companies are helping their employees do just that in hopes of helping their own bottom line.

NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: There are about 385,000 legal immigrants in the Valley who are eligible for citizenship. But long hours and double shifts can keep many of them from taking the next step.

A few companies such as Technology Credit Union and ABM, a building maintenance provider, have signed on to the Bethlehem Project. It provides on-site civics and English lessons and tutoring for the naturalization test.

Jim Reed, vice president for policy at the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce talked about the project in a news conference yesterday.

JIM REED: When workers become citizens the statistics are overwhelmingly clear. Their income goes up, their purchasing power goes up, the prosperity of their family goes up, they move up into positions of leadership. All of that is directly tied to whether they're citizens or not.

GONZALES: A study by Washington based Migration Policy Institute shows a clear economic advantage to becoming a citizen. Immigrants who naturalize see at least a five percent hike in their wages and they can earn between 50 to 75 percent more than non-citizens.

Companies signing on with the Bethlehem Project expect to build worker loyalty and productivity with a direct impact on the company's profits. The project is already operating in four other cities.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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